Chinese Stories in English
2013 --- Minus 29
The Chinese Communist Party, acting through its proxy the Chinese government, decided late last month to strengthen the “Great Firewall.” (See here.) That’s the system the Party uses to block access to certain information on the internet, thereby protecting the Chinese people from spiritual pollution. As a side effect, the Great Firewall sometimes also prevents me from adding new translations to this website. I have to tunnel through the wall when I want to edit the site.
When the Party has tried to close the tunnel in the past, I’ve always been able restore it in just a few minutes. This time, however, the process was complicated by a cup of coffee which, when spilled onto my laptop, instantaneously transformed the unfortunate machine into a pile of recyclable materials. The additional complication has required the better part of three weeks to resolve, and I’ve been using the unexpected vacation time to find out more about the Great Firewall.
The Party uses various techniques to protect its impressionable subjects from gaining access to disagreeable information. (*See links below for detailed explanations.) Some websites are completely blocked. Others are partially blocked – you can access the website but links to some pages don’t work. Often, even websites or postings that are not objectionable to the Party get blocked, as collateral damage, simply because they use the same technology as websites that the Party doesn’t like.
That’s my situation. My web host uses encryption technology to prevent unauthorized editing of its customers’ sites. Other companies, which help people tunnel through the Great Firewall, use a related technology. Last month the Party tried to block internet access to those other companies by blocking any website using that technology, in the process inadvertently preventing me from editing our website.
Although I have to tunnel through the Great Firewall to add translations to our website, the website itself has never been blocked. Thus, when you read the things we publish there, you can rest secure in the knowledge that they have not been deemed harmful to your health by the Party. (Unlike the website, I can file new posts on this blog without having to bypass the Great Firewall. I just have to be careful where I put my coffee.)
A recent article in a Liuzhou newspaper which we translated as "Internet Safety" (article #6 on this page) attempted to explain the Party’s views on access to the web. Briefly summarized, since Western countries have adopted laws to prevent companies from collecting personal information involuntarily over the internet, the Party feels justified in protecting individuals from voluntarily receiving too much information over the internet. Mumbo-jumbo in Chinese remains unintelligible even after it’s translated into English.
According to James Fallows in China Airborne (at pp. 169 et seq.), the Chinese public mostly supports these kinds of restrictions. He suspects that people have been influenced by innumerable stories in the Chinese press about the dangers of unbridled internet access. The press routinely depicts evil internet webmasters as fomenting social unrest and using addictive fantasy games to lure Chinese children away from their schoolwork. (See our translation of the short story "Internet Love" for a typical example.) The Party “encourages” the press to publish these stories.
It’s amazing, though, how ineptly the Great Firewall is managed, especially with respect to materials not written in Chinese. One day last week, for example, stories about an earthquake in Alaska and a missing child in Iowa were blocked on CNN’s English language website, while two unflattering stories about the Party got through. Given the inefficiencies in the system, I really can’t say that China is stuck in 1984. It’s actually stuck somewhere in the more distant past, striving hard but unsuccessfully to get to 1984.
Happy New Year, whatever year it is where you are!
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